What every family can do: The 5-2-1-0 rule

Every child and every adult has a healthy body shape that is just right for them. However in today’s world it is easy for us all to gain excessive, unhealthy weight. Weight gain occurs when energy intake (food and drink) is more than the energy burned off (physical activity). The best thing you can do to help your child achieve the healthy body that is just right for them is by creating healthy habits for the entire family.

Rule 5

5 or more servings of vegetables and fruit per day

Vegetables and fruits contain many nutrients that a child’s body needs and they should be taking the place of high calorie food from a child’s daily food menu. According to a 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey, children who eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruits a day are significantly less likely to develop overweight and obesity than children who eat less than 3 servings per day. Additional evidence supports the linkage between high vegetables and fruits consumption and decreased cancers, diabetes and heart disease rates. Ensure your child eats vegetables and fruits at every meal and as a snack. Dinners can begin with a salad, a clear vegetable broth soup or raw vegetables in order to fill everyone up before the main course.

Rule 2

2 hours of screen time or less per day

The latest Canadian Community Health Survey data indicates that children who watch more than 2 hours of screen time (TV, computer, video games) per day have double the incidence of overweight and obesity when compared to children who watch less than 1 hour per day.

  • Limit screen time to 2 hours or less per day and keep children physically active. We recommend the use of a timer to avoid quarrels as to how much time has elapsed.
  • Children should not be allowed to watch TV before 2 years of age and there should be no TV in the children’s bedroom, no matter what the child’s age.

Rule 1

1 hour of physical activity or more per day

There is significant improvement in both physical and mental health when children and teenagers obtain their required 60 minutes of physical activity per day. But more than half of 5-17 year olds are not reaching activity levels sufficient for optimal growth and development. Encourage your child to be active! According to Canada’s Physical Activity Guide, children should engage in:

  • 30 minutes a day of vigorous physical activity such as running, tag games and playing soccer
  • 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity such as playing outdoors or biking

Ideas to help your child become more active from the BC Medical Association:

  • ensure activities are fun for your child
  • provide space and time for physical activities
  • be active as a family: consider skating, hiking, biking, swimming, trips to the zoo or park, roller skating, miniature golf or anything else that can be enjoyed by the entire family
  • involve children in household activities such as car washing, dog walking, lawn mowing or other active household chores
  • walk to school, the bus or shops when appropriate — organized sports aren’t necessary to achieve one or more hours of physical activity per day

Remember, parents and adult family members are role models. Kids will learn from your activity levels.

Rule 0

0 sugar sweetened beverages per day

We know that one of the major contributors to the childhood obesity epidemic is the over consumption of sugary drinks (SD’s). Examples of SD’s are soft drinks (pop), fruit “beverages” , “punches” or “cocktails” (bought or homemade), flavoured milk, sports drinks and flavoured coffees. These beverages are liquid candy and should rarely be served. 100% pure fruit juice does not contain added sugar but may well contribute to excess weight gain and portions should be limited.

Provide your child with plain milk and water to drink. Fruit juice should be limited to one small glass (125 mL) per day. Fruit juice contains the sugar of fruit but at higher amounts than in fresh fruit since it takes many fruits to make one glass of juice. Give your child fresh fruit instead of juice. Pack water in your child’s school lunch instead of a juice box.

Most people will eat the same amount of food at a meal whether they drink water or an sugary drink. All those extra calories are saved as fat. Children who drink one can of pop per day increase their risk of childhood obesity by 60%. Studies show that 30-50% of Canadian teenagers drink at least one can of pop per day. A 13 year old boy needs to jog 50 minutes per day to burn off the 260 calories contained in each 20oz (590ml) bottle of pop.

Aside from weight gain, a child who drinks too many sugary drinks may also have tooth decay and loose bowels or diarrhea due to problems digesting the sugars in the drinks.

What else can a family do to prevent childhood obesity?

Become knowledgeable and take time

Learn about healthy eating and active living and take the time to help your child achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. No parent can follow all of these tips every day. Do what you can do when you are able.

Eat breakfast together

Studies show that students who eat breakfast have increased test scores, improved attendance, reduced tardiness, and better academic, behavioural and emotional functioning.

Eat most meals at home and eat as many meals as possible together

Studies show that the more meals a family eats meals together, the more likely the children are to eat fruit, vegetables, grains and calcium-rich food and beverages. They are also more likely to feel connected to their family. They do better in school and are half as likely to run into problems with substance abuse as teenagers.

Portion sizes should be age appropriate

Avoid ordering super-sized foods and serve appropriate sized portions at mealtimes.

Lead by example

Children will do what you do, not what you say. Model healthy lifestyle choices such as exercising regularly and eating healthy food. Children with overweight parents are less active, and are more likely to prefer sedentary activities. Studies show that older children are twice as likely to be active if their mothers are active and are almost six times more likely to be active if both parents are active.

Be authoritative

Set the standards for meals, snacks and physical activity and do not hesitate to limit access to screen time and sugar sweetened beverages. Encourage children to drink more water. Keep healthy snacks where children can easily find them.

Do not set your child up for failure

Don’t stock the kitchen with sugar sweetened beverages and high caloric snack food — clear the house of junk food and junk drinks.

Start early

Strive for a healthy pregnancy and avoid excess or insufficient weight gain. Both overweight and underweight infants are at risk for obesity problems later in life.


This is modestly protective against the development of overweight or obesity.

A note about diets
Placing a normal or overweight child on a diet is known to harm a child’s health. It can affect their normal growth and development, and damage their delicate self-esteem. Focusing on a child’s weight can stigmatize a child and may cause further over-eating. Focus on the child, not their weight. Regardless of your child’s weight or shape, help them to love and respect themselves by praising their skills and strengths.
Family involvement in healthy lifestyle change provides an overweight child with emotional support, and benefits the health of each family member.

  • Talk to your children and support them regardless of their size or shape
  • Discourage negative talk about body weight

LIVE 5-2-1-0!


or more veggies and fruit per day


no more than two hours of screen time a day

hour of physical activity or more per day


no sugary drinks